I had never toured alone before. Travelling with a band of circus animals is an entirely different experience. When powered by numbers, the plain white Toyota 12 seater finds a set of wings that has us flying high above every stop sign, and traffic jam on the Princess Highway. But here I was, three hours from the safety of my daily routine, alone with the over-protective chattering in my head, or ‘monkey mind’ as it’s called in meditation. My body was wired and tired from the tug o’ war between faith and self-doubt.
During the previous week, I found my mind assessing the peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day as if it were a measure of my capabilities to handle my first little gig road trip in over three years. Knowing too well that the “monkey mind” falsely believes that the more it can replay it’s endless catalogue of “what ifs”, the more prepared it’ll be. Whenever I’m in this situation, I have two choices. Give the monkey a good spanking (or a hug), or sit down and pull it a part.
I spent an hour the night before, creating separation between the things that I can change and the things that I can’t. Most of my worries stemmed from the scarring experiences I’ve had touring in the past with health complications. The insomnia, the depletion, hypoglycemia, the anxiety attacks. Thanks to the internal renovations I’ve carried out over the last few years, they are all a far cry from the character I am now, but the inner-protector still needs convincing.
A pre-plan anchor is the saviour to a worrier. Without them, it makes it so much harder to deal with the runaway imagination. Often, it’s the combination of worries that spark one big fire ball of anxiety. I took time to lay out my intentions and “thought remedies”. They were quite simple.
- Focus on the present moment as much as possible.
- Catch the mind playing “mini-movies” and ask it, “Is that happening now?” This helps to keeps the body from believing that the mini-movies are really happening. (Root of anxiety)
- Keep the courage by reminding myself of the mother goal – the purpose of leaping – to feel the joys of touring and performing. That way, any time I hit a snag and feel like bailing, or when my emotions get too hot and I want to run, I have something that can drive me above it all.
The crescendo of restlessness flattened out, making room for optimism and excitement. This trip was now seen as an opportunity to finally put to bed the worries that have been choking my desire to play music.
Letting go of inner expectation has been a reoccurring challenge. It’s one of the primary road blocks. I get a lot of strength when reflecting on past accomplishments, but sometimes it can be the very thing that overwhelms. “If it’s such a challenge to do a tiny 4 day gig run now, how the hell will I ever be able to do the things I used to do? Tour the world. Team up with my idols. Back to back interviews” When you’re just starting out, every tiny victory is taking you higher than you have ever been, but in a situation like mine, it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain you have fallen down from. However, I remind myself that I’m a different person. Different thoughts. Different perceptions of the world. Different mountain. It’s not even a mountain – just a path.
With my expectations in the trash, and my intentions in my back pocket, I gave my wife, baby boy, and dog big hugs! I realised in that moment that not only was this my first little trip in a few years, it was my first trip ever away from my son – a bit of sadness mixed with cool relief of dealing with an emotion that seems justified.
It’s funny how a history of anxiety can transform an originally free and spontaneous mind into one that finds safety in routine. Hence the psychological trap. When travelling, you’re forced to strip down to the necessities. In my situation, cooler bag, guitar, amp, clothes and morning and afternoon meditation sessions. The rest is space for the travelling experience to fill. I had to accept that. I also had to accept the natural self-doubts and anxieties that are upheld by the handful of scarring moments of the past.
After one whole Little Feat album, a Tim Ferriss interview with Tony Robbins and 2 piss stops, I found the restlessness quietening. All thanks to the anchors. I was able to welcome anything that arose with the knowledge and faith that I can handle anything. I’d notice the shift, I’d catch it early by seeing it all for what it was (mini-movies from the past), accept them and re-direct my attention back to the beauty of the drive. I remember at one point having a random worry about my heart! It was tight and sore, and a good part of me started buying into the worry of having a heart attack in the middle of nowhere. The biggest acceptance, “Alright, enough you peace of shit, if you have a heart attack waiting for me, bring it on. Until then, you aren’t going to stop me from enjoying this trip and playing my guitar. I can’t change anything about this situation other than how I respond to it, so bring it on bitch!” It dissipated. It was quiet. I was floating in the moment.
It sounds cliché as fuck, but cruising through the country, window down, blue skies, fully immersed in the travelling experience. Not reflecting. Not anticipating. Just here, by myself at peace. That feeling became my anchor for the rest of the trip. It allowed me to pull over and have the best kip in the back seat. It allowed me stay cool and unbothered when my mate Kenny’s sleeping pill prevented him from answering his phone for 2 HOURS (he told me to call him when I hit Jindabyne for further directions, with no address). It allowed me to take in every bit of mother nature’s work in the Snowy Mountains. One turn had me driving through a winter wonderland, everything covered in white fluffy clouds. My arm hanging out of the window, happy to feel the icy pain of something real. With such a scenery transformation, the mind had no choice but to cut connection with the things that don’t matter. I couldn’t help but be in awe of mother natures paint brush.
A motorised snow sled with an open trailer picked me up from the car park. As the driver fanged it to the ski lodge, I watched as my amp, guitar and pillow got covered in white slush. I didn’t give a fuck. I was just so happy to be out of my head.
Two years ago, I couldn’t even walk into a café without feeling the world skewing effects of anxiety, here I am after a 6 hour solo road trip, on the back of a Snow Patrol in a place that bares no resemblance to my comfort zones, and I’m fucking loving it!